The short answer is, it depends. Packing a saddlebag for a triathlon is important, but it depends on your goals, course features, and the distance of the triathlon you’re doing.
Depending on your goals and race experience, you’ll decide if having a saddlebag is worth it. For a beginner who’s goal may be to complete their first triathlon, it’s probably a good idea to pack a saddlebag. But, for an experienced veteran looking to get a personal best time or podium, packing a saddle bag may be useless.
Depending on the bike course, you may or may not need to carry the extra weight. For a simple out and back route packing a saddlebag is a good idea, especially if the race is longer. But, if the course does multiple laps, you may be better off leaving the saddlebag at home and in the case of a mechanical you either call it a day or get a change in an aid station.
Distance of Triathlon
If you are doing a race shorter than an Olympic triathlon you don’t really need a saddlebag. However, for a long course, 70.3 or full Ironman you probably want to have that saddlebag just in case. Training for a long distance triathlon takes a lot of time and money so you don’t want to be left stranded on the side of the road. Most races will have mechanical support on site, but it’s first come, first serve on the road. So, if you get a mechanical far out on course, it may be a while until you are helped.
Better Safe than Sorry
It’s often better just to be safe, rather than sorry. What time is lost to strap on a saddlebag, with a tube, levers and a pump? If you’re worried about aerodynamics, you can stuff an old water bottle with repair gear.
Before your next or first triathlon make sure you know how to change and repair a flat. You’ll be glad you did.